Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia closing in on American League batting title

Aug 14, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) singles against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the third inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 14, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) singles against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the third inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

A scorching second half for Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has put him in the thick of the American League batting title race.

We expected that a Boston Red Sox hitter would draw our attention to the American League batting title race down the stretch, but many of us had the wrong one in mind.

Xander Bogaerts, the runner-up for the batting title in 2015, found himself in the thick of the race once again this season as we hit the All-Star break, but a second half swoon has all but taken him out of contention. In his place, a teammate has stepped up to challenge for the title. The scrappy veteran, Dustin Pedroia, has shot up the rankings over the past month at a furious pace to become a serious contender.

The Red Sox lead the league with an astounding four players that are currently batting over .300, including three that rank in the top 10 in batting average. While each of them are having incredible seasons in their own right, none can match Pedroia’s .330 average entering the day.

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On August 13, Pedroia collected a pair of hits to raise his average to an even .300. Exactly one month later he has increased that average by a staggering 30 points. Think about how difficult it is for a player to raise their batting average that much this deep into the season, with over 500 at-bats under their belt, when a multi-hit game may only be enough to raise that average by one measly point.

That’s what happened last night in Boston’s shellacking of the Baltimore Orioles, where Pedroia went 2-for-4 at the plate to raise his average from .329 to .330. Two hits barely moved the needle, but luckily for Pedroia, those multi-hit games have been coming in bunches lately.

Pedroia has multiple hits in 13 of his last 16 games. That includes back-to-back four-hit performances against the Kansas City Royals during the team’s last homestand. Prior to that he had collected three hits in Tampa Bay, stringing together 11 straight hits over those three games to fall one short of the major league record.

As good as Pedroia was on the last road trip, he’s been otherworldly this season at Fenway Park. He is 20 for his last 28 at Fenway and hitting a blazing .353 at home this season.

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This recent surge has catapulted Pedroia into second place in the AL batting title race, behind Houston’s Jose Altuve. For a while it appeared that the Astros’ second baseman was going to run away with the award, with an average that stood as high as .366 only a few weeks ago. A September slump in which Altuve has hit a meager .178 has dropped his season average to .337, tightening the race with the red-hot Pedroia.

If it weren’t for the prolific seasons that Mookie Betts and David Ortiz are both having, Pedroia would be garnering more attention in the MVP conversation. He’s on track for a career-high in batting average, while putting up numbers comparable to his MVP campaign of 2008. Pedroia is tied for 10th in the league with 5.5 WAR, putting him on pace to finish in the same range he was in during the 2008 season (6.8 WAR). It will also be his best season since 2013, when he last helped lead the Red Sox to a World Series title.

After a string of injuries spoiled the last two seasons we started to hear whispers of Pedroia hitting the decline phase of his career. He was now on the wrong side of 30 and his gritty, maximum effort style of play can make staying on the field more difficult at this age. Now healthy, Pedroia is brushing those concerns aside with another stellar season at the age of 33, proving he hasn’t lost a step at the plate or in the field.

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There’s a reason the Red Sox are pushing Yoan Moncada, the best prospect in baseball, to another position. Pedroia has a claim on second base and he’s not going anywhere any time soon.